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Floodwaters spill into northern Bangkok
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 21, 2011

EU gives 10 mln euros in aid to flood-hit Thailand region
Brussels (AFP) Oct 21, 2011 - Europe is to send 10 million euros (13.8 million dollars) to help the hundreds of thousands of victims of the massive flooding in and around Thailand, the European Commission announced Friday.

The money will go towards helping people hit by the flooding in five countries in southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand itself, said the statement.

"In a region which is ever-prone to natural disasters, this year's monsoon season has been particularly fierce, causing loss of life, damage to infrastructure and property and destroying livelihoods," aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said.

Heavy rains since July have already killed more than 600 people and according to Commission figures, and affected around 7.4 million people.

In Thailand alone, the worst flooding in decades has killed nearly 350 people and disrupted the lives of millions of people, mainly in the north and centre of the country.

Millions of nervous Bangkok residents were warned Friday to move their belongings to safety as the kingdom's worst floods in decades poured into the outskirts of the sprawling city.

In a desperate attempt to drain the mass of muddy water, the authorities have opened all of Bangkok's sluice gates to allow the floods to flow through canals and rivers in the low-lying capital and into the Gulf of Thailand.

The move should ease pressure on vulnerable flood barriers on the northern edge of the city of 12 million people, but it increases the threat to Bangkok itself, where some outlying residential areas were inundated on Friday.

People were advised to move their possessions to higher floors or safe areas after the government admitted the sea of water bearing down on the capital from the central plains was unstoppable.

"I ask all Bangkok residents to move your belongings to higher ground as a precaution, but they should not panic. It's preparation," said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has described the crisis as "overwhelming."

Three months of heavy monsoon rains have killed at least 342 people in Thailand and damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of others, mostly in the north and centre.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to seek refuge in shelters, including 33-year-old Nonglak Yodnankham who fled the approaching water in Pathumthani province just north of Bangkok.

"The flood was following behind us when we ran away. Within five minutes, it was already up to my waist," she told AFP at an emergency shelter at Bangkok's number two airport, Don Mueang, protected by 10,000 sandbags.

The waters were already seeping into the capital too, leaving little doubt that large areas of the metropolis would be inundated. The only uncertainty was how deep the floods would be and whether the city centre would be hit.

Waist-deep water submerged roads and houses in Don Mueang district in northern Bangkok while more than 2,000 homes were flooded in neighbouring Lak Si, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the city centre.

"The water keeps increasing. It's not receding at all. It keeps spreading," Don Mueang district chief Phumpat Damrongkiatisak said late Friday, adding that several square kilometres (miles) in his area alone were inundated.

In the east of the capital, dykes were close to overflowing, the city authorities said, reassuring residents they had evacuation plans ready if necessary.

Yingluck said the authorities would organise additional emergency shelters, make more parking spaces available and assign security officials to oversee significant locations such as the palace and Bangkok's main airport.

Bangkok residents have rushed to stock up on food and bottled water, while motorists have parked hundreds of cars on bridges or elevated roads.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and police have been mobilised to maintain order.

The opposition is calling on the government to declare a state of emergency to make it easier to control people and prevent them damaging dykes to ease the flooding in their own areas -- but Yingluck ruled out such a move.

Amid signs of tensions between the government and the Bangkok governor, the 44-year-old former businesswoman said she would invoke a section of the disaster law to increase her authority in dealing with crisis.

Yingluck, who is the sister of fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra and was a political novice before taking office, is facing the first major crisis of her two-month-old leadership and has shown signs of strain.

The authorities have failed to protect a number of major industrial parks from the gushing brown water, which has inundated hundreds of factories outside Bangkok, disrupting the production of cars, electronics and other goods.

The government says more than half a million people have seen their jobs disappear for now.

Leading Japanese automaker Toyota said Friday its three factories in Thailand would stay closed for another week due to a shortage of parts.

Most of Thailand's main tourist attractions -- including the southern islands of Samui, Phuket and Phi Phi -- have been unaffected although some foreign governments have warned against non-essential travel to Bangkok.

Bangkok's main airport, built on a drained marsh, is still operating as normal and its flood defences have been reinforced.

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Thai evacuees find refuge after 'fleeing death'
Don Mueang Airport, Thailand (AFP) Oct 21, 2011 - Where travellers once queued for flights to exotic destinations, hundreds of tents in a Bangkok airport are now shelter for families who fled a torrent of floodwater.

A disused terminal building in the capital's second-largest airport, Don Mueang, has been opened up for 1,500 flood victims, some of whom recounted fearing for their lives as they escaped the rising waters.

"My husband and I fled death," said Nonglak Yodnankham from nearby Pathum Thani province, describing how the mass of brown water swelled at a terrifying pace.

"Within five minutes, it came up to my waist already," the 33-year-old told AFP at the airport, which now serves mostly domestic destinations since the opening of the modern new international gateway east of Bangkok in 2006.

Wannee Chaasamrong, also from Pathum Thani, said she had to swim through water up to her chin to rescue her belongings before escaping.

"Even the army in the area cannot control the water. Six barriers collapsed. The water didn't stop rising. Some people were waiting and staying on roofs. They wanted to leave but the boats were too small," she said.

Chunjit Panjanuwat, a government coordinator at the airport shelter, said it was key to reassure distressed families they were safe after their ordeal.

"The most difficult thing is dealing with people's emotions when they arrive. We have to reassure them so they will trust us to find them somewhere to stay and food to eat."

Three months of unusually heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 340 people across the country, damaged properties and livelihoods and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in shelters.

Winai Kotbaan, 29, said he carried her parents through chest-deep water from the third floor to get to safety.

"My dad has to walk with a walking stick. I still have to go to work because now I am the only breadwinner," she added.

Inside the former departures hall, volunteers handed out free meals and water to elderly people sitting in front of their green, red or blue tents, while in the children's corner youngsters crafted paper airplanes.

Elsewhere, teenage girls huddled together charging their mobile phones and gossiping over magazines.

Chunjit said some 700 tents had been erected on the groundfloor and the centre was not yet at full capacity.

"The shelter can handle 2,000 evacuees with tents and 3,000 without tents," she said.

Despite the close proximity of the living quarters and the occasional complaint about having to wait in line for the bathroom, the atmosphere appeared calm and relaxed.

"We console one another. We understand one another because we all faced a natural disaster," said Wannee.

While the authorities have reinforced flood barriers around the airport, areas nearby were already starting to be submerged, raising doubts about how long the shelter would remain a safe haven.

The refuge has opened its doors not just to flood-affected men, women and children -- dozens of families have brought their dogs along, setting up camp outside the terminal to allow the animals to run free.

Not everyone at the shelter was comfortable sharing a space with man's best friend, and it was not an arrangement coordinator Chunjit wished to encourage.

"I understand that some people want to rescue their dogs first but they misunderstood and came here thinking we were dogs-sitters," she said.


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Thai PM tells Bangkok to move belongings to safety
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 21, 2011
Millions of jittery Bangkok residents were warned Friday to move their belongings higher up after the government admitted it was failing in its battle to hold back huge floods just north of the city. In a desperate attempt to drain the sea of muddy water, the authorities have opened all of Bangkok's sluice gates to allow the floods to flow through canals and rivers in the low-lying capital a ... read more

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